The Department for Transport (DfT) and Highways England have started laying the foundations for RIS 2, the second road investment strategy, which is due to be implemented in 2020.
A series of proposals will be released this year with feedback from the fleet sector likely to play a key role in shaping plans for the so-called strategic road network (SRN) of motorways and major A roads in England.
The first of these reports will detail route strategies of 18 national roads and is due to be published this month, followed shortly by the strategic economic growth plan.
Jim O’Sullivan, Highways England chief executive, said: “We want comment over the summer. The first plan will be next year.”
The SRN makes up just 2% of the national road infrastructure but carries one-third of its traffic, including two-thirds of freight.
O’Sullivan described the contribution of the SRN to the economy as “immense”. Speaking at a Westminster Energy Environment and Transport Forum seminar last month, he said the 112 named road schemes committed to under RIS 1 were all on track to begin by 2020, albeit many of them were starting towards the end of the five-year period laid out by Government.
This was a concern for the roads regulator Office of Rail and Road (ORR), which called it “not ideal”.
David Hunt, ORR head of economics and policy, Highways Directorate, said: “This has to be managed.”
The ORR has also drawn attention to a dip in the quality of roads, which has fallen below agreed targets.
“We don’t fully understand why performance has dropped. We will look at this in detail over the next few months and report in our next update in July,” said Hunt.
The Government’s five key aims for the SRN – economy, integration, safety, network capability and environment – are expected to be retained for RIS 2.
“RIS isn’t just building and maintaining roads; it’s the performance of a critical national aspect,” said Jill Adam, DfT director, strategic roads, economics and statistics. “So it’s also traffic flow targets, efficiency, network condition, the environment and cyclists/walkers.
“The goal is connectivity integration locally and regionally. We are looking at the SRN in the context of the local economy to improve the performance of the network as a whole. We want a more intelligent and nuanced conversation.”
The five-year RIS 2 programme will further move Highways England away from the treadmill of annual funding, enabling it to take a longer-term and more logical approach to investment planning.
“I want to see a five-year programme of renewal, a five-year programme of capital renewals and a five-year programme for new schemes,” O’Sullivan said. “That will bring stability to the supply chain.”
Highways England’s primarily focus under the road investment strategy is to deliver safety, on-time completion and improved customer service. Safety consists of three priorities: engineering and design of junctions, driver behaviour and responsibilities, and vehicle design.
“We are working with manufacturers on autonomous vehicles and safety devices,” said O’Sullivan. “If they fit devices that distract the driver, they will have to fit other devices to make up for that.”
Highways England is planning to trial a 55mph speed limit through roadworks on the SRN, increasing the limit from the current 50mph. O’Sullivan said it was “a challenge”, but added: “We expect to see it trialled this summer. It would be a huge win for the freight industry.”
In other measures intended to meet its customer service objectives, Highways England will change the language used on overhead information boards.
“We will stop talking about long and severe delays. We will give you our best estimate of the length of the delay and how far the delay is away so you can better plan ahead,” O’Sullivan said.
He is also starting to work more closely with local authorities on roads which link into the SRN and called on the Government to find more money to help with their funding.
Diversion routes around roadworks and accidents were a particular concern. “They are barely fit for purpose when you leave the SRN,” O’Sullivan said.
“We are forming a view on what investment in that network should look like with the DfT – they have no view yet. These roads are important to us; no one starts or ends their journey on the SRN.”
Seven issues for RIS 2 to address
1. Safety, including other drivers’ behaviour
2. Journey times, of which congestion relief is key
3. Surface quality, signage and lighting
4. Information around roadworks and incidents
5. Integration with other roads, including diversions
6. Roadside facilities, especially for lorry drivers
7. Provision for cyclists and pedestrians along or crossing the SRN
Source: Transport Focus